Denis Bradley’s column in Friday’s Irish News opened with these words:
It was a public talk away back in the 1980s. I don’t remember his name but I think he was a Jesuit from the Irish School of Ecumenics. He was the first I heard to publicly and properly define the elements that constituted the Troubles. He emphasised the need to be clear that the two main killing machines were the IRA and the British Army (and the organisations it controlled).
He argued that the role of the peacemaker was to get the main killing machines to the negotiation table. He proposed that it was inevitable that they would have to come to an accommodation before peace could be achieved. That is precisely what happened four years before the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
It may seem old hat now but way back in the early eighties that was an analysis that was far from politically correct.
If I had to guess, I’d say there’s a good chance the Jesuit in question was Fr Michael Hurley, one of the founders of the Irish School of Ecumenics. Hurley devoted a substantial portion of his career to promoting reconciliation on this island. Part of Hurley’s ministry was founding the Columbanus Community on the Antrim Road in Belfast, an ecumenical community that was meant to serve as a witness of reconciliation in the midst of a divided society. The Belfast campus of the Irish School of Ecumenics, where I work, is now situated in the building that was the home of that community.
Bradley’s column was about Jim Allister’s Stormont bill on special advisors, which would bar people who have served five years or more in prison from becoming political advisors. This is a move aimed, at seems, at preventing former IRA members from serving. Bradley’s argument is that while the SDLP may be reluctant to vote with Sinn Fein to oppose the bill, they should do so because it is a ‘distorted’ bill and scuppering it is for the greater good. (Bradley feels it necessary to add that he thinks that IRA members make lousy political advisors!)
Whether you agree with Bradley or not on this particular issue, he makes a wider point that is an important one for Christians to consider.
Alluding to the example of John Hume and his secret talks with Gerry Adams (as Bradley writes, ‘… John Hume, ultimately came to the same conclusion as the ecumenical Jesuit’), he says, in essence, that you have to get your hands dirty. Bradley calls this a ‘sacrifice’ for a ‘greater need.’
For Christians, this may involve engaging with people whose morals you question, whose actions you think should put them ‘outside the pale.’ Jesus, after all, sat down with the outcasts and the marginalised of his day, those whose background and actions would have had them labelled ‘immoral.’
Can Christians today really make a difference if we don’t do that?
(Image: The Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast)